Pastor freed in US-Turkey row that snared F-35 program

North Carolina Pastor Andrew Brunson Reportedly Set to be Released by Turkish Government
Officials believe US on verge of securing release of North Carolina pastor held in Turkey

13 October, 2018

His trial came as Turkey and the United States are embroiled in another major diplomatic incident regarding a Saudi writer - US resident Jamal Khashoggi - who disappeared at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week. The prosecutor had asked for a 10 year sentence.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, visited with Brunson and his wife, Norine Brunson, the day before the trial.

Turkey showed the first signs of relenting in July when it moved Brunson to house arrest instead of incarceration, but refused to fully release him, until today. He was arrested in 2016 and charged with being involved in a failed coup against the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"I look forward to returning home and being reunited with my family", Brunson said.

Lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt said Brunson is expected to leave Turkey for the United States. President Trump denounced his imprisonment as a "total disgrace", while Vice President Mike Pence threatened to "impose significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free".

Under the agreement made between senior White House officials and the Turkish government, Brunson should be released after specific charges are dropped against him at his next court hearing on Friday.

The decision ended a tense diplomatic standoff between the US and Turkey that began after Brunson's October 2016 arrest on terror and treason charges.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said on 28 August that Turkey had been eager to buy the Patriot surface-to-air missile system, but was once again rebuffed by the Americans.

The court in the western town of Aliaga convicted Andrew Brunson on terror-related charges and sentenced him to three years, one month and 15 days in jail, an AFP correspondent said.

Brunson's lawyer told the court there was no evidence against his client, at which point the judge asked Brunson to speak.

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Turkey has been criticized for the sweeping arrests after the coup attempt, where tens of thousands of people were taken into custody over their supposed links to terrorist groups.

The new hearing came at a time of a new but growing alignment between the USA and Turkey over the suspected murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who lived in America and who is feared to have been killed inside the Gulf kingdom's Istanbul consulate.

"'Give us the pastor back', they say".

But the source cautioned that Brunson has appeared close to release before.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted: "Pastor Andrew Brunson is coming home!"

NBC cited sources as saying that under an agreement USA officials reached recently with Turkey, Brunson would be released after certain charges against him were dropped at his next court hearing. Brunson's final hearing also came at an opportune time for Turkey as investigators continue probing the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

The High Criminal Court no 2 in Izmir rules Brunson's detention would be turned into house arrest due to "health problems".

Erdoğan had previously attempted to craft a deal with the trade Brunson for Fethullah Gülen, the USA -based Turkish cleric that he blames for the coup attempt.

Pastor Richard Harris, who serves at the church near Brunson's parents' home in North Carolina, had traveled to Turkey to be in court on Friday, Smith said.

The diplomatic stand-off over Brunson, who led a small congregation at the Izmir Resurrection Church, accelerated a sell-off in Turkey's currency, worsening a financial crisis.

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